Should you celebrate Christmas at work?
Diversity is a great thing in the workplace. According to acas.org.uk, it can hold the key to new ways of thinking, and help you reach out to a wider range of customers in order to grow your business.
However, despite the fact that we live in a massively multicultural society, it seems that the way we celebrate Christmas at work takes priority over every other religious or cultural celebration throughout the year.
As soon as December shows its face, we see tinsel strewn across desks, wreaths hanging on the walls, and colleagues giving out gifts to names they’ve pulled from a hat. And according to the BBC, more than 97% of the UK’s workforce gets Christmas Day off work.
The big Christmas debate, AKA “The Christmas Controversy”
For many people in the UK, Christmas is an important part of the year. But even though I personally enjoy the celebrations, I sometimes find myself wondering if we are shutting out other people in our workforce by placing such huge importance on this particular holiday.
Apparently, it’s not just me who wonders this, either. In fact, the debate about whether or not we should be celebrating Christmas as a nation is so big, it even has its own name and Wikipedia page: Christmas Controversy.
So here’s what I want to know:
- Are we too deep inside our festive bubble to realise that not everybody enjoys Christmas?
- What do people of other cultures and religions think of the way we celebrate Christmas at work?
- Should we even celebrate Christmas at work?
Not everybody wants to celebrate Christmas at work
Not everybody in the UK enjoys Christmas. Yet those who dislike the celebrations seem hesitant to voice such opinions, for fear of being called “Scrooge”.
Some people hate Christmas so much in fact, that they have even considered literally moving house during the Christmas period in order to avoid the tinsel, trees and flashing lights!
According to MTV, people who dislike Christmas simply HATE being told to “just be merry anyway”. Why should they be merry just because it is Christmas? Can’t they be merry whenever they please, instead of when a religious tradition tells them to be?
The subject of religion is an interesting one. For many people, the religious undertones of Christmas mean they have no interest in celebrating it, as it conflicts with their own. Let’s move across the pond for a moment and take a look at the example of Penelope Trunk.
Why should we be forced to take time off at Christmas when we would prefer to celebrate our own religious traditions instead?
Penelope Trunk lives on a farm in Wisconsin, where she home-schools her sons. She is the founder of four start-ups, and has appeared on CNN, NPR and the BBC. She is also Jewish, and has a lot to say about companies who celebrate Christmas at work.
Here are two of her biggest issues:
- If a company doesn’t shut down for Yom Kippur – the biggest day in the Jewish calendar – then why should it shut down for Christmas?
- Why should I be forced to take Christmas day off work, yet I have to use my own holiday allowance to celebrate Yom Kippur?
Over the years, many people have written to Penelope and said things like “but Christmas isn’t really religious – it’s just a time to be loving and indulgent”.
According to Penelope, this is all well and good… but if the holiday has no religious meaning to it, then why is this particular date so important? Further to this, if it is not about religion, then why do so many Jews, Muslims and Buddhists refuse to celebrate it?
Some companies try to tiptoe around people who dislike Christmas, by wishing everybody a happy holiday instead. But Penelope says that most non-celebrators simply interpret this as “merry Christmas to those of you who don’t celebrate it”, which is just as offensive.
Penelope has written about this topic many times, both on her own blog, as well as for the Huffington Post. She concludes that although she may well represent a minority in the workplace, companies should still do more to celebrate diversity.
Forget the traditions, and accept that giving gifts is a great way to appreciate the people you work hard with all year
Art Markman is a psychology and marketing professor at the University of Texas. Like Penelope, he is also Jewish.
In the “Ask The Experts” column on fastcompany.com, Art responds publicly to a letter from somebody who complains that they feel uncomfortable and left out at work because they don’t celebrate Christmas.
He agrees that “happy holidays” is no better than saying “merry Christmas”, because for those who don’t celebrate Christmas, there seems little point in having a holiday. He also wishes that the modern workplace were more inclusive of other religions and traditions.
However, Art points out that Christmas is such a big thing because people in a majority culture tend to swing towards a common central celebration, even if they don’t necessarily agree with its roots or origins.
His advice? He says that the sentiment of Christmas is a good one, and it brings light to the darkness of winter. He suggests that you should forget the traditions it is wrapped up in, and simply accept that decorating the office and giving small gifts is a good way to appreciate the people you work hard with all year.
Not everybody hates Christmas – and it isn’t even very religious
There are lots of people who advocate celebrating Christmas at work. Michael Chidzey, head of marketing at chillisauce.co.uk, goes as far as saying that you simply must have a Christmas party, otherwise you risk destroying your company’s culture.
However, his view doesn’t seem to take into account the feelings of people like those above, who say that Christmas makes them feel excluded and uncomfortable. But are we really excluding literally everybody else from a non-Christian background when we celebrate Christmas?
Apparently not, according to an article published in The Guardian.
Remona Aly is a Muslim who loves Christmas. “Don’t cancel Christmas on behalf of Muslims like me” she says. “I love it!”
In fact, Christmas is now such a patchwork of different cultures and traditions, that many say it is less of a Christmas celebration, and more of a multicultural excuse to have fun. For example:
- The turkey was introduced to the UK by non-Christian, American Indian traders in the 16th Before this, it was more traditional for royalty to eat peacocks at Christmas.
- The origin of the Christmas Tree comes from a pre-Christian era, where the tree represented evergreen life throughout the cold months of Winter.
- Several Christians dislike the tradition of gift-giving at Christmas, due to its secular origins.
It seems that lots of people enjoy Christmas, including those people from all sorts of religions and cultures. And it seems that these days, Christmas is not as religious as it once was.
But if you really hate Christmas, and can’t stand the fact that your colleagues all celebrate Christmas at work, what can you do?
What to do if you really hate Christmas but your workplace still celebrates
The Telegraph gives a few tips to anybody who struggles to accept that almost everybody around them seems to be celebrating Christmas. Here are some of my favourites:
- It makes you look good when you offer to work. The fact that almost everybody else hates the thought of working on Christmas day, while you really couldn’t care less, means that when you offer to cover the Christmas shift, you’ll get lots of kudos from your colleagues.
- You’re more likely to find a seat on public transport. While everybody is at home pulling crackers, you can enjoy lots of empty seats on the bus or train – assuming of course that your preferred service is still running.
- You might benefit from extra overtime pay. Some companies go as far as offering extra pay for overtime worked over Christmas. Instead of complaining about the injustice of this fact, why not take advantage and earn some extra cash?
So should you be celebrating Christmas at work?
Should you celebrate Christmas at work? That’s not for me to say.
What I will say, is that while a lot of people from all sorts of religions seem to really enjoy the tradition, there are also a fair few who hate it.
So maybe, just maybe, before you spray fake snow all over your windows and drag a giant tree into the middle of the office, you should spare a thought for those poor people who dread this time of year. Remember that not everybody loves Christmas, and consider trying to find out if anybody in your company is feeling uncomfortable or left out – preferably before you start handing out colourful paper hats.
What do you think? Do you celebrate Christmas at work, or do you treat it as just another day in the year? What are your reasons? What do your employees think? Give us your feedback in the comments below.
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